Plant Pathology Department


Date of this Version



1997, American Society for Microbiology


APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY, 0099-2240/97/$04.0010 Jan. 1997, p. 162–168 Vol. 63, No. 1


We report the use of a model system that examines the dynamics of biological energy availability in organic matter in a sphagnum peat potting mix critical to sustenance of microorganism-mediated biological control of pythium root rot, a soilborne plant disease caused by Pythium ultimum. The concentration of readily degradable carbohydrate in the peat, mostly present as cellulose, was characterized by cross-polarized magic-angle spinning 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. A decrease in the carbohydrate concentration in the mix was observed during the initial 10 weeks after potting as the rate of hydrolysis of fluorescein diacetate declined below a critical threshold level required for biological control of pythium root rot. Throughout this period, total microbial biomass and activity, based on rates of [14C]acetate incorporation into phospholipids, did not change but shifts in culturable bacterial species composition occurred. Species capable of inducing biocontrol were succeeded by pleomorphic gram-positive genera and putative oligotrophs not or less effective in control. We conclude that sustained efficacy of naturally occurring biocontrol agents was limited by energy availability to this microflora within the organic matter contained in the potting mix. We propose that this critical role of organic matter may be a key factor explaining the variability in efficacy typically encountered in the control of pythium root rot with biocontrol agents.